Osteria and Enoteca Bibiana -- bday dinner report
We went to Osteria Bibiana tonight for a birthday dinner (just the two of us), and it was wonderful. Creative, but well grounded in true Italian cooking. When I let drop that if was my bf's b-day, the waiter came our with a beautifully plated special dessert with a chocolate sauce "Happy Birthday" message adorning the top. Service, especially considering they're still in a soft opening, was excellent, too. (Kudos to our server from Campania!) Great wine list, including numerous selections by the glass/quartino/half-liter, which allows you to judiciously sample more! (Living up to the "enoteca" in its name.) We're visitors from the SF Bay area, but we travel in grand part to eat, and I'd be happy to go back to Bibiana. In fact, we ate so much this first time, I'm a bit embarrassed! We started with specialty cocktails ($12 ea): a Nicoletta (Hanger 1 Buddha Hand, Pinot Grigio and....I'm missing an essential ingredient or two), and a Maddalena (Vodka, Campari, Vermouth, Prosecco), both fine libations. I was pleased to see that there were enough interesting food choices that we torn among them. Eventually, BF started w/Vitello Tonnato ($12), which was prepared in a way much superior to the traditional slathering of the creamy tuna sauce on the thinly sliced veal; here, you could distinguish clearly the flavors of the veal, the tuna (thick swirls of the sauce garnishing the top of the plate), and little dabs of a chicory sauce. My appetizer was from the small plates section, the veal polpettine ($8). I'd rather describe these as polpette, as the diameter was about that of a U.S. quarter. Tasty, as was the tomato-based sauce. Good value, with probably ~6 in a "sm. plate." Our primi (primi for us, but the portions could have been entree size had we been less indulgent) were: paccheri ($18), a particularly wide and somewhat thicker rigatoni-shaped pasta in a fairly-traditional and delightful bolognese ragu. I had the risotto with green apple and Taleggio ($19), finished (I think) w/ a drizzle of olive oil -- perfectly cooked al dente w/o crunchiness, creamy w/o soupiness. (My mother was from Northern Italy, and I'm particularly picky about risotto, and fairly picky about Italian food in general.) Our mains were guancie di vitelle (veal cheeks, $26) with some lovely wild(?) mushrooms on top of a soft polenta and, as a beautiful taste and consistency counterpoint, a sprinke of hazelnuts. BF had the branzino ($25), an entire large fish, which was expertly deboned tableside. The waiter then drizzled a green sauce (like an Italian chimichurri) over the laid-out branzino, which was accompanied by expertly cooked rapini. We shared a decadent giundiuja bomba for dessert, then each a grappa, and some good espresso and French-press coffee.
Our experience last night was mixed - I would not rush back. Service was very good - smooth and courteous. We had the arancini and salumi to start. On the salumi platter we had the housemade testa, speck and sopressata. The testa worked well with the picked green beans on the platter, but was kind of boring on its own. The other two meats were good - very small servings however. The arancini were hot and crisp, but rather boring. For mains, we both wanted fish and starch, so we ordered the whole bronzini and the gnocchi with brussels sprouts to share. The fish was perhaps the best dish -filleted onto a nice lemony sauce. The fish was not overcooked. It was served with sauteed rapini that were exceedingly bitter (and Iike bitter greens). The gnocchi serving was small (and the plate was laughingly huge), but after a few bites, I wouldn't have wanted more. The flavor was nice - smoky potato and butter - but the gnocci themselves were gummy. The external "skin" had a different texture than the inside - maybe not cooked quite long enough?
A minor gripe, perhaps, but the rectangular dishes (fish, apps) are quite oddy shaped around the edges, making it difficult to rest your silverware on them. Throughout the meal I was constantly making sure my silverware were not falling off. Do managers try out these "fancy" plates before ordering them?
One bottle of wine + two apps + gnocchi + bronzino added up to $112 before tax and tip.
We had a drink at Proof before heading to Bibiana - and I wish we had eaten at Proof instead!
1100 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005
Ordered our own 7 course tasting last night.
Started with the baccala and 3 cold cuts. The baccala wasn't particularly fishy - tasted more like a typical fish cake than salt cod. The cold cuts were good, especially the lardo - nice and smokey.
Next up were tripe parmigiana and roasted sweetbreads. Both were good. The tripe, fortunately, didn't taste gamy and absorbed the parm sauce quite well. I personally would prefer it cooked longer and have a softer texture.
We also tried two pastas - casoncelli and spaghetti with crab meat. The casoncelli was on the saltier side while the spaghetti was rather flavorless other than some heat. Unfortunately the crab added no flavor to the pasta.
Last, we split a branzino. The fish was nicely cooked. The sauce tasted like meuniere (which is pretty boring to me). I actually liked the rapini - didn't find it more bitter than mustard greens.
With 4 drinks a piece (although it was mostly beer, the Menabrea dark is very nice, much better than the Peroni and Moretti - which are really not better than Bud), it was about $100 per person prior to tipping.
Our conclusion was the same though - would not rush to go back.
Went last night, had a completely wonderful experience. Began with a very fresh sorrel and arugula salad, which was perfectly dressed, carciofi alla romana which were also delicious, and the sweetbreads, which won over even the non-organ meat people in the group. We also had the casoncelli and spaghetti al nero with crab, but have to say that our experience of them could not have been better. The casoncelli were tender, rich and flavorful, the brown butter and sage was simple and perfect as a way to dress them. The spaghetti was delicate, but really well balanced. I could absolutely taste the squid ink in the pasta, the crab had a lovely sweetness, which was a great foil to a traditional aglio, olio peperoncini preparation. We had a really nice, affordable Primitivo, and a fabulous server who kept an eye on the clock for us (we had theater tickets) and made sure we were out exactly when we wanted to be without ever once making us feel rushed. Highly recommend.
I should clarify that the spaghetti itself had the flavor of ink; however, the dish as a whole was underseasoned for us. The crab meat added no flavor and there was nothing else discernable other than heat. In addition, we prefered the pasta more al dente (which admittedly is difficult with fresh pasta).
My husband and I went to Bibiana last night to celebrate our anniversary. I completely agree with FoodFiend. The food was quintessential italian, every dish we had was crafted with a simple preparation and had subtle flavors and a heavenly taste.
We visited Bibiana on a Wednesday night. While the place was full, it was a mix of business men and tourists. The crowd didn't hurt the atmosphere, but it was something that I did notice upon arrival. Of course it was a weeknight. I am sure on a Friday or Saturday night there is a younger mix of patrons.
Our waiter was incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the food. His recommendations were spot on and he knew the menu inside and out, as if he created it himself.
We started with the Fried Squash Blossoms, Crostini Di Pollo, and black figs stuffed with cheese. We knew we were going to have an incredible evening based on the appetizers alone. The figs were outstanding, slightly sweet, complemented by the cheese and topped with shaved almonds and a drizzle of balsamic (i think).
We then had half portions of the bucatini and the risotto with green apple. The risotto was out of this world. Food Fiend nailed the description, it was absolutely perfect. And while sometimes risotto can be overly rich and heavy, this risotto had the perfect balance of creamy rich texture without being overpowering.
My husband then had the duck and I had the branzino. The fish was presented to me table side and then taken away to be filleted. I was served a beautiful plate of soft white fish with an incredibly subtle yet flavorful drizzle of sauce.
We also shared the chocolate bomba for dessert and enjoyed it immensely. The wine list was superb.
Bottom line, we can't wait to return!
1100 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20005